If you live in a middle- or low-income area, you might be paying more than you need to for car insurance.

Recent research from the Consumer Federation of America is calling into question the "high" and "variable" insurance rates being charged to middle-class drivers with good driving records. (Hat tip: The New York Times.)

These findings are the end result of a study that fabricated profiles for two hypothetical middle-class people with good driving records and compared the online insurance quotes they received from the country's four largest car insurers: State Farm, Allstate, Progressive and GEICO.

They found that in 15 major cities, 56 percent of the rate quotes for these model drivers exceeded $1,000 per year, and 32 percent of them exceeded $1,500. The CFA also found that rate quotes varied considerably in the same city. A hypothetical 35-year-old female bank teller's rate quotes from the four companies ranged from $762 to $3,390 per year in Las Vegas.

According to the CFA, 13 percent of all Americans know someone that drives without car insurance. Among Americans with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000, the share of people driving without insurance is 22 percent. Although driving without car insurance is against the law in most states and can make accidents extremely expensive, the high price of insurance was reportedly the main reason drivers said they did not obtain coverage.

The high price of car insurance also may be one of many reasons keeping young people from buying cars, or taking up driving at all. Fewer than half of potential drivers younger than 19 years old had a license in 2008, while 64.4 percent of the same age group had a license in 1998. Additionally, 46 percent of drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 say they prefer Internet access over owning a car.

The CFA found in a report released in January that major car insurers also overcharge low-income drivers. While insurers aren't allowed to ask for income information from insurance applicants, other data such as consumers' zip codes and education levels are used to estimate the size of a driver's paycheck, according to MSN Money's article on the CFA report.

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